Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's a Small World After All


I hope everything is going great for you all back stateside. I miss everyone and everything about home every single day! Please know that even though it is difficult at times for me to stay in touch, I think of you everyday and I love you all so much.

Life here continues to get better as we adjust and feel more at home in this foreign place. I spent the last week shadowing a current volunteer who is 17 months into her service and living in Jwaneng, a large mining village. Christina just so happened to graduate from Mentor High (the school my parents, aunts and uncles went to) and went to Miami University making my PC family that much more connected. That is my third PC connection to someone back home. One other volunteer is family friends with a neighbor of ours and another went to high school with my brother-in-law's sister went to high school with another fellow volunteer. Hence the title of this blog, it truly is a small world after all. Even though all 58 of us (down from 61 as 3 volunteers have already left us early) come from all over the US and every different background imaginable, we still find our connections. This group truly has already become a family.

Back to shadowing, Christina works at one of the only orphanages in Botswana and I got to see her day-to-day life and get a grasp of what my life will be like come October when I arrive at site. We ate the most delicious food I have ever had (probably a result of eating traditional Botswana food for the past month) and were able to regain some of the independence that we lose while living with a host family. It was also great to meet different volunteers and chat with them about what Peace Corps Service has meant to them. The overwhelming feeling I have after talking with them is that my service will be what I make it. I heard time and time again that low lows will come and you will question why  you are here, but high highs will follow. After my week away, I feel refreshed and ready to tackle the last half of Pre-Service Training. I feel more prepared than ever (not saying much) to take on the challenge of spending two years away from home, living remotely and doing my best to tackle my work.

Site announcement is this week. It is an extremely exciting time for us. I can't wait to know where I will be living, what amenities I will have (fingers crossed for electricity) and which friends I will be living by. Come Thursday, I will finally have some clarity. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to it! Keep all 58 of us in your thoughts, if you can, as it will be both an exciting and challenging time.

For now, I will leave you. Enjoy that fall weather creeping in. It is only the start of summer here and today the high was 97.

Hugs and kisses from 8,000+ miles away! 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Love is Universal

This weekend I had a special moment with my host mom that I thought deserved its own post. Like I said, I have been in country now for three weeks and have been in close contact with my family through email but have yet to speak to anyone on the phone. Three weeks without hearing any familiar voices sure is a long time! On Saturday, I was able to face time with my mom, dad, Carrie and Em. It was so great seeing their faces! Even though our connection was horrible and they only heard every twentieth syllable (numbers courtesy of dad) it meant so much to me to see them all crowded around my dad’s iphone (still a surprise and newsflash-mom also joined team iphone). Emree has gotten even cuter but was also confused about where I was and kept reaching for the phone. 

Later that night, after I walked home, my host mom and I were sitting on the porch. I knew she could tell I was sad so I explained to her – in broken Setswana and through tears – that I was really missing my family and that it is hard to be so far away. I went into my room and got a photo album of pictures I have here with me and shared them with her. She looked through every picture three separate times, asking questions about my loved ones.  Following a series of candid pictures of Emree and I, she said “You love her too much.” I know she didn’t mean too much but so much by the way she said it. After she was finished with the rest of the pictures, she set the photo album down, looked at me and said “My ngwana (my daughter), they miss you too.” It was such a simple statement but so comforting to me. She put her hand on my arm, got up and made me a cup of tea. And just like that, my tears were dry and I went to sleep excited for the next time I get to see my family and so thankful to have them in my life, even if they are 8,000 miles away.

Three Weeks in Country

Happy Labor Day!  Take the time today to enjoy your day off, grill out and crack open a few cold ones for me! PC (Peace Corps. Trying to get you all used to the abbreviations as we often times speak in fluently in abbrevs). Anyway, PC is honoring the US holiday for us volunteers and taking us on our first game park adventure to a Rhino Reserve. It is like a mini-safari and we are expecting to see a lot of wildlife. I promise to take pictures. On that note, the only reason I haven't uploaded more pictures is because I am having a hard time connecting my laptop to the internet and that is where all my pictures currently live. I am taking them though and will get them up here eventually.

I have been in country for three weeks now and time is moving much more quickly as I get used to my new routine, home, family, and being away from home. We are 1/4 of the way through PST (Pre-Service Training) and getting into much heartier and more applicable material which makes me one excited girl! Last week, we had a woman who is HIV positive come and speak with us about the stigma that surrounds HIV in Botswana. She explained to us that men here prefer not to be tested for HIV and that instead, they test through their women, meaning that if someone they have slept with is HIV positive, that is how they know they are too. The gender dynamic here is a tough thing to get used to. Men expect women to do everything for them and show little gratitude. Additionally, in my village, it is predominantly women and children, the men are simply not around. No one really has an explanation for this either. It is also standard that if a man buys a woman a drink at a bar, she is expected to sleep with him. I never considered myself much of a feminist stateside, but here, in the words of my sister Katie, my feminist blood boils! For now, my plan is simply to lead by example to other women in regards to empowerment and how they should expect to be treated.

The next few weeks are going to be an exciting time for us! On Thursday, I get to go observe at a school similar to the one in which I will be working. I am really excited to start more focused work. On Friday, we get to visit a diamond mine which is the number one driver for Botswana's economy.  Very few people are granted access to this specific mine and we are honored to be invited. The following week, we get to travel to another village to shadow a current volunteer who works in the same program as we do. I am really excited for this because it will give me a good idea of what my day-to-day life will be like come October as well as give me a chance to see another part of Botswana. I know time will move quickly and before we know it, it'll be September 19th which is SITE ANNOUNCEMENT! I can't wait to learn where I will be living for the next two years. As of now, my primary concern is not that I have running water or electricity at site but that I will be close enough to other volunteers to travel to see them on the weekends. No two volunteers will be in the same village so isolation is a huge concern of mine.

Pictures will come soon, I miss you all and still would love to hear from you!